“This is one of the tragic and unresolved problems,” Swedish Ambassador in Dhaka Johan Frisell said while speaking on his country’s foreign policy in Europe and Asia on Monday.
“If the conditions were much better, not only would the remaining Rohyinga population stay (in Myanmar), that it could also conduce conditions for those in Bangladesh to return,” he said, replying a question.
Thousands of Rohingya population fled sectarian violence in Myanmar and took shelter in Bangladesh over the decades. Myanmar authorities later denied their citizenship.
“We all know the best solution is government of Myanmar creates condition for this group to live peacefully in their own country,” the ambassador said.
He, however, did not see any solution through a third country resettlement.
“The global resettlement scheme is too short to accommodate the large number of Myanmar nationals,” Frisell said.
He said vast majority were living in Bangladesh as informal migrants as they had not been given the refugee status.
“It is necessary to recognise them as refugee for their full integration to the global system of repatriation,” the ambassador said.
He was speaking at the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) in Dhaka as part of its ‘country-lecture series’ where ambassadors speak about their engagement with Bangladesh.
Sweden established diplomatic relations with Bangladesh soon after its independence. Its development cooperation also began soon after the recognition on Feb 4, 1972.
The ambassador said Sweden was focusing on Asia, including Bangladesh for businesses due to the region’s economic growth.
Swedish companies are some of the largest sourcing textile brands, Bangladesh’s main export item. Bangladesh imports chemicals, machinery, vehicles, and dairy products from Sweden.
Frisell said Bangladesh was on track to eradicate poverty and become a middle-income country.
“It is true that everything points in that direction, results are impressive,” he said when asked whether Bangladesh would be able to eradicate poverty by 2030.
He, however, said there might have some pockets of poverty, like among “indigenous” people in Chittagong Hill Tracts, stranded Pakistani, and new migrants in Dhaka and Chittagong slums, needed to be addressed.
“Then the government will have to rely on its own means of poverty reduction,” he said, as once being middle-income country, official development funds will not be here anymore.
Sweden not neutral
He said Bangladesh was a partner of Sweden in ‘solidarity’, one of the three key pillars of Stockholm’s foreign policy.
He said of the other two -- values and neutrality – neutrality had gone with the changing world.
Frisell said because of “neutrality”, Sweden did not take sides in both the first and second world wars.
But he said with the changing time they found it hard to be neutral for the sake of solidarity and values.
“Today we pursue the policy of solidarity with small countries,” he said, referring conflicts in different parts of the world particularly in the Eastern Europe where he said Russia was trying to exert its influence over Ukraine.
He said Sweden’s motto was large countries must be “more careful than the small countries”.
“We don’t believe large country has the right to turn the future or destiny of a small neighbouring country.”
“I don’t think India should have particular say on Bangladesh. Bangladesh is an independent country. It has to be respected,” he said, citing an example.
He, however, said he found it as “the biggest riddle” to explain Bangladeshis that why Sweden was neutral in 1971 when a year before it sided with Vietnam against America’s aggression.
“We woke up seriously only on 3rd of December in 1971 when India entered the war. Then it became clearly an international issue, not domestic issue”.
Frisell termed Bangladesh’s war of independence as the “second wave of decolonisation” after 1947 partition, and said Sweden understood the situation in 1971 much later than the UK and the France.
The ambassador appreciated Bangladesh, India, and Myanmar’s peaceful resolution of the maritime boundary dispute that, he said, became a “prime” example of how things should be done.
BIISS Chairman of the Board of Governance Ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmad chaired the session where former diplomats, government officials, and researchers were present, among others.